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June 25, 2007
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DESTINATION DIGEST: Manchester




"What Manchester thinks today, London thinks tomorrow", used to be the catchphrase, a mark of the esteem in which Manchester was held by its inhabitants of many years ago.

Looking at the Victorian splendour of many of the fine buildings in the centre of the city it is easy to see the sort of wealth various industries, but especially textiles, brought to the city and helped raise its profile both on the national and international stage.

Like so many other UK cities, the second half of the 20th Century was maybe not too kind to Manchester. And like many of these other cities, Manchester has spent the past few years redeveloping to the extent that the modern visitor sees a thriving city centre with plenty of bars, restaurants, clubs and brand name stores.

To this must be added the building and development of a significant number of events venues that provide organisers with the opportunity to run anything from the smallest intimate sales meeting up to large-scale exhibitions and conventions.

Catching up
I was delighted to catch up with an old industry chum, Paula Lorimer. When we first met she was event director of Confex. A few years later she is sales director at Manchester Central, the new name of the G-Mex and MICC centres.

After a lengthy career dealing with venues and destinations, Lorimer is well placed to assess the contribution Manchester is making to the UK events scene.

“On a personal level it’s an absolute joy,” she says. “The last time I came to the city was about 10 years ago and the transformation has been extraordinary.”

Cultural and commercial
Lorimer points to the eclectic mix of architecture, great shopping, dining and socialising facilities coupled with the important day-to-day issues, such as good schools, excellent accommodation, that is cheaper than down south, and a manageably-sized city in which key locations are often just a few minutes away from each other. On the commercial level, the city is also hugely attractive.

“Manchester is quickly becoming a busy events destination because 80 of the top 100 companies are now either based, or have an office, in the city. It is rapidly becoming the corporate axis of the UK,” she says. “This has driven a change in the amount of business we attract.”

This has not been lost on the political parties, with both Labour and the Conservatives running their annual conferences in Manchester Central on two occasions each over the next four or five years.

Well connected
As events veterans know, it’s all very well having a fine infrastructure, but in order to enjoy it visitors have to be able to get there easily and it is often a criticism levelled at cities outside London that they are not exactly that accessible. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Manchester, situated as it is on the UK motorway system and with regular train services to all parts of the country. Added to this is the little known fact that the airport is now the 20th busiest in the world with most key international destinations served by a large number of airlines.

And yet, for all its international connections, the city remains small enough for organisers to give their events quite an intimate feel. Most of the main hotels and venues, for example, are within walking distance from each other while other places, such as Salford Quays and Old Trafford are only a short cab or bus ride away.

Football fever
Mention of the home of Manchester United is interesting. As one of the most famous soccer clubs in the world, it is a brand that has reached far and wide. I wonder how valuable it is to have such an identifiable symbol as part of your marketing campaign.

“The thing about United is that it gets the Manchester brand out there internationally, it is a very good hook.” says Lorimer. “We work closely with United through Marketing Manchester, because a large number of people that come to events in the city want to visit the ground. It’s not the final feature that maybe seals a deal, but it is certainly an important part of what we do and it helps us hit the ground running.”

Where's the rain?
Not being a soccer fan I won’t be one of those visitors that is desperate to visit the stadium and, anyway, there is much more going on in Manchester to keep even the most hackneyed exhibition visitor or conference delegate happy.

“As a rounded package Manchester has all that event goers could possibly want in a very manageable area,” concludes Lorimer. “I think we’re in a fantastic position to host more and more high profile events.”

As a confirmed and proud Londoner I’m not too worried by the Manchester doing today what we do tomorrow slogan, I’ll let them keep thinking it. In the meantime, I look forward to my next visit. And speaking of myths, I’ve been to Manchester four times now and have yet to see one single drop of rain.


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